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Class Action Defense Cases–Owner-Operator v. Landstar: Eleventh Circuit Reverses Judgment In Favor Of Defense But Affirms Decertification Of Class Action Status

District Court Certified Class Action but Subsequently Decertified Class Action as to Damages because of “Unique and Individualized Proof” Required by Class Action Allegations Eleventh Circuit Holds

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which “represents truck owners and truck drivers who enter into lease agreements to provide equipment and services to haul freight in interstate commerce for Landstar System,” a U.S. Department of Transportation-approved motor carrier, filed a class action complaint against Landstar and others alleging defendants violated the federal Truth in Leasing regulations; specifically, the class action alleged that defendants “fail[ed] to disclose in their lease agreements that banking fee charges would be deducted from compensation paid to the truck owners and drivers” and “fail[ed] to provide documentation regarding the computation of charge-back items including pricing information submitted by Qualcomm.” Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn., Inc. v. Landstar System, Inc.., ___ F.3d ___, 2008 WL 4058042, *1 (11th Cir. 2008). The class action “sought damages and equitable relief, including restitution, disgorgement of Landstar’s profits, and injunctive relief.” Id., at *2. Defense attorneys moved to the complaint on the ground that the two-year statute of limitations had run the class action claims; the district court denied the motion, ruling that a four-year limitations period applied. Id., at *3. Eventually, the district court granted plaintiff’s motion to certify the litigation as a class action, id. The court noted, however, that “not all aspects of this case present common issues” and specifically stated that “if these common questions are resolved in favor of the putative class, the issue of damages will be unique and subject to individualized proof.” Id. The parties waved their right to a jury trial, id., and the district court ruled that “[the] only claims remaining in this action are those regarding injunctive relief, damages sustained, and attorney’s fees,” id., at *4. On the first day of trial, the district court granted defendant’s motion to decertify the class as to damages, explaining that “issues regarding damages sustained by individual members of the Class would require unique and individualized proof.” Id., at *4. However, the class action was not decertified with respect to the complaint’s prayer for injunctive relief. Id. Ultimately, the district court entered judgment in favor of Landstar on the issue of damages, and entered judgment as a matter of law in favor of Landstar. Id., at *5-*6. Plaintiff appealed seven of the district court’s rulings, id., at *6; defense attorneys filed a cross-appeal. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part.

We do not discuss the specific factual allegations leveled against Landstar. See Landstar, at *1-*3. For our purposes, the Circuit Court’s discussion of the class action certification issues is paramount. In this regard, based on its ruling that plaintiff had to prove actual damages, the district court decertified the class action. Id., at *16. The district court reasoned that “decertification is appropriate because the determination of the remaining issue of damages in this case on a class-wide basis is unfeasible, unmanageable, and would not be superior to individual actions.” Id. The Eleventh Circuit noted that there are “‘extreme cases in which computation of each individual’s damages will be so complex, fact-specific, and difficult that the burden on the court system would be simply intolerable…but we emphasize that such cases rarely, if ever, come along.’” Id. (citation omitted). The Circuit Court concluded that plaintiff “failed to establish that actual damages can be easily calculated for all class members, [so] the District Court did not abuse its discretion in decertifying the class for actual damages.” Id., at *17.

NOTE: While we do not discuss the court’s discussion of the merits of the appeal, we note that the Eleventh Circuit summarized at page *1 its conclusions on the issues that it reversed as follows, “We vacate the judgment because we conclude that the District Court erred in finding that Landstar was not required to disclose banking fee charges and document charge-back items. We also hold that the District Court erred in granting an injunction sealing the pricing information Qualcomm provided to Landstar.”

Download PDF file of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. v. Landstar System